The designer, illustrator, music lover and type connoisseur Massimo Gentile died suddenly Sunday in Genoa, Italy where he was art director of Il Secolo XIX. Our craft has lost one of its most talented members.
The news of Massimo Gentile's death at the age of 53 arrived Monday morning in the form of a personal message via Facebook from Jessica Timberlake, who worked with Massimo at Il Secolo XIX in Genoa, Italy.
“Sad news,” she wrote. “He was such a talent.”
Indeed, perhaps one of the most talented art directors whom I have ever had the pleasure of working with in my 40+ years career.
Massimo was a giant, physically and in terms of his talents.
He was gentle, too, as his surname indicated. He could engage in a conversation about design that could go on for hours, and nobody would be bored.
He had a passion for typography, and an even greater obsession with all things music, especially jazz. We talked Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Amy Winehouse and Stan Getz, then would switch to the Blue Notes album covers, and suddenly the conversation would go from Gershwein to Matthew Carter, from the standard song The Man I love to the classic font Didot.
Somehow, in the magic world of Massimo Gentile, the two dwelled in the same compartment. He would step out of the room for a smoke, and come back with a new idea: What if we move this type from the left to the right?
Why not? A Massimo Gentile idea was usually the best, not that he ever pushed his concept forcefully. He put it on the table, drawing on a sketch pad, describing it, and convincing us all in the process.
I discovered that when I met him. It was the redesign of Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo, where Massimo was design director. The stylebook for that project (see illustration below) is one of the most visually appealing, functional and memorable of the hundreds of newspaper design stylebooks I have seen.
We would engage in long conversations in Portuñol (a mix of Spanish and Portuguese), with the gentle Massimo doing more Spanish than I would do Portuguese, but never making me feel that he was making the greater effort to find just the right word. That was Massimo: making it all look effortless and not losing his cool about much. He had tremendous patience for those editors in the newsroom who had no sense of visuals, explaining why he was making a choice of a photo or graphic. He even had more patience for managers in the executive room of the newspaper, sketching one trial after the other until the CEO and his team would smile and approve.
That was Massimo. There was seldom an issue with him. He moved slowly, responded quickly to anything related to a design idea, surrounded himself with posters and memorabilia of his two passions, and was always willing to try the next best idea.
After Folha de Sao Paulo, and when he expressed to me an interest to move back to his native Italy, to be close to his ailing mother, I recommended him to Carlo Perrone, publisher of Il Secolo XIX, one of Italy’s most prestigious and respected regional dailies.
Perrone invited Massimo to come visit and to see if he liked Genoa. It was an instant great match. For me, a great opportunity to work with the genius of Massimo Gentile again.
Like everyone else who knew Massimo, Perrone is in disbelief about Massimo's sudden death:
We are all shocked by this death , completely unexpected. I will miss him , he as been part of the success transformation process of Il SecoloXIX.
With Massimo at Il Secolo XIX, we had a chance to collaborate, and I invited Garcia Media’s Christian Fortanet to join our rethinking of Il Secolo.
“I can’t imagine an art director that I have respected more,” Christian wrote me upon learning of Massimo’s death. “He was talented but always ready to share his knowledge.”
“A unique personality, solid, talented and so willing to give of himself,” said Garcia Media Latin America senior art director, Paula Ripoll, who worked with Massimo when we redesigned Folha de Sao Paulo.
Massimo was also a perennial and disciplined student of our craft. In 2012, he decided to do a different poster illustration each day, for a total of 365 by the end of the year, which he did.
“I like to work with type to make statements. Maybe some of these things have been done before, and that is OK, one does not have to be the first, but , for me, this is like daily therapy,” Massimo told me.
“I read your blog daily, dear Mario,” he told me once.”I always find something interesting there.”
“Funny,” I told him, “I am always looking at the work you do to learn and to be inspired and I always get at least one good idea from your creations.”
It was mutual admiration and respect between Massimo and me.
The visual journalism community has lost one of his most passionate members, one who went quietly about his business, obsessed with his craft and improved it through example, never making too much noise about it.
I have lost a dear friend and colleague with whom I was always in touch, sharing a page, a link, a new book, or the latest Diana Krall or Michael Bublé album. We last communicated last week, a brief discussion about design and smart watches. Wonder what he would have created for that new platform.
May you rest in peace, amigo Massimo. All of us who knew you are grateful to have had you in our lives. My heartfelt condolences to your wife and the rest of the family.
Descanse en paz.
Descanse em paz
Riposare in pace